Sporting spirit




MS Dhoni-led Chennai Super Kings (Source: Twitter)
The promotion of sports is required not merely for bringing medals and laurels to the country but more importantly to build a healthy, competitive and humane India of future.

Ibrahim Hafeezur Rehman

With a population of over a billion India still does not fair well in international sports arena. Poor infrastructure, lack of coaching facilities or personnel, abysmally low earnings of most sports persons, low emphasis on sports in schools and colleges are some of the primary reasons for this malaise. Of course, cricket is an exception to this being the only sport that has brought infrastructure and resources along with laurels for the country.

Within cricket Indian Premier League (IPL) offers a business model which can be replicated to other sports maybe not with the same level of success but enough to elicit interest, enhance competition, provide opportunities and resources for the sports persons. The IPL has provided huge opportunity and resources to young cricketers and India now has a good bench strength in cricket with up to four national teams and several formats or tournaments which make it possible for a large number of cricketers to keep playing the game professionally. It is also important to point out that IPL has not only benefitted the cricketers in India but in the region as well. For instance, it would have been very difficult for cricketers from Bangladesh and Afghanistan to find opportunities to show and improve their skills while earning money as well. Since IPL is organised across many states it has necessitated upgrading of cricket infrastructure in a large number of towns. The same infrastructure is now also used by young and aspiring cricketers to learn and improve their skills. Moreover, by giving opportunity to domestic players to play alongside international players it has given them the necessary competitive spirit while benefitting from watching and interacting with the masters of the game.

With intervention of Honourable Supreme Court and the appointment of Committee of Administrators there is an effort to bring in accountability and oversee that the huge resources being earned by cricket administration are spent well on the cricketers and for promoting the game. The Committee has also made efforts to get experienced national and international cricketers into the technical and administrative aspects of the game. Moreover, it has been effective in halting the onslaught of politicians in the administration of cricket.

While the nation continues to cheer, rejoice and drink the elixir of cricket it is important to see if we can draw lessons from it to benefit other sports. The first aspect is the resource utilisation itself as it must be remembered that the cricketing bodies are raking in ‘moolah’ owing to the huge interest that the masses in general have in the game. While a major chunk of these resources need to be spent on the game of cricket itself it should be considered that a percentage can be allocated to other sports. This can happen if you have a regulatory body for sports that oversees the commercial aspects of the sports and puts forth a system for utilisation of profits earned by different bodies so that the same are used in a transparent and equitable manner for promotion of sports. It must be pointed out that cricket has become what it is today by utilising huge infrastructure that was created by the government from tax payers money. Even today for organisation of matches and logistics related to the same huge government machinery is deployed and utilised.

Second, it is worth considering that cricket world over made huge changes and innovations to adapt itself to the commercial aspects and needs. Of course, the commercialisation has been criticised by some pointing out that the original finesse and skills of the game are almost lost to marketing. However, one can definitely find a middle path in which to promote a sport some changes in format and presentation to make it attractive to audience particularly TV viewers would be essential. To an extent progress in this regard has been made with the setting up of Kabbaddi and Football Leagues. However the problem is that rather than deriving learning and innovating we tend to just copy and replicate. Hence, setting up Leagues the way it has been done for cricket may work for some sports it may not for several others. The trick in looking at each sport holistically: from a marketability as well as niche audience point of view; and involving distinguished sports persons, other celebrities has yielded better results.

Corporate support in terms of adoption and sponsorship is also crucial. Cricket enjoyed corporate patronage because it was already hugely popular and provided a good advertising platform for the Corporate. Such is not the case with other sports and it is here that the government needs to step in to provide support for engagement of professionals (marketing  and sports) who can collectively take the sport to the next level. Each sport should be facilitated to develop a strategy and business model with the help of professionals. Such a strategy should have details of support, infrastructure and resource requirements and possibilities and strategies for meeting these needs. The governments need to go beyond the customary passive Sports Ministries and transform them into entities that take up the cause of sports in a professional and scalable manner.

Finally at a formative level we need to get out of the mindset of “Padhoge likhoge banoge nawaab, kheloge kudoge hoge kharaab” (Study to become big and rich;  get into sport to go astray). We need to provide good sport infrastructure at the school and Mohalla level to our children so that they can play all kinds of games. Each school should have professional trainers for different sports and we need to have many more dedicated Sports Schools and Colleges where the talented can get both academic and sports training. The pursuance and enhancement of commercial and business aspects mentioned above would help parents realise that even sports can be good careers for their wards. The promotion of sports is required not merely for bringing medals and laurels to the country but more importantly to build a healthy, competitive and humane India of future. Sports do not only build physical strength or stamina but go a long way in building character and determining the outlook of next generation.

(Ibrahim Hafeezur Rehman, Development Sector Specialist, Independent Thinker)